State of the State; Unemployment decline still trails our neighbors

Governor Pritzker delivers State of the State and budget address

Governor JB Pritzker delivered his State of the State address on Wednesday. The speech had been planned for the Illinois House chamber, but as a major snowstorm blew into Central Illinois session was cancelled and the Governor was forced to deliver the speech to a much smaller audience at the Old State Capitol instead.

The Governor painted a rosy picture of the state’s fiscal condition, but did not address the structural problems which have caused so many of the fiscal challenges Illinois has had to face over the years. Much of the fiscal progress of the last year has been temporary: due mostly to federal bailout funds from Washington which are now running out. Without structural change in state government we risk falling back into the same old difficulties.

After three years of promoting higher taxes it was nice to hear the Governor call for some small tax relief as a way to fight the inflation which has driven up prices and eaten up paychecks. It remains to be seen whether these ideas are gimmicks or if they have any chance of becoming law.

I also would have liked to have heard more about the Governor’s plans for fixing the mess at DCFS, about the deadly failures at the LaSalle Veterans Home as well as a concrete timeline for when we will see mandates lifted and an end to the series of executive orders and emergency proclamations which have dominated so much of state government for the past two years. Overall I thought the Governor’s remarks fell short of the solutions Illinois needs as we go into 2022.

Illinois unemployment stands at 5.3%, higher than neighboring states

The December 2021 Illinois unemployment report found that the state’s unemployment rate had fallen to 5.3% from November’s standing of 5.7%. That is a welcome improvement, but Illinois continues to have joblessness that is much higher than the numbers posted throughout most of the rest of the country, including our neighboring states. Nationwide the unemployment rate in December was 3.9%, 1.4% lower than the Illinois rate. Among our neighbors, Iowa fared much better in December with a rate of only 3.5%, 1.8% better than Illinois. We trail the other states around us too.

Illinois’ disadvantages when compared to our neighbors have been well known for years: high taxes, significant crime challenges, burdensome pension debts, a poor public-sector credit rating, labor laws that impose liability burdens on employers and customers, and a physical infrastructure that is only now beginning to be repaired after a long period of neglect. Many of our neighbors do not face these challenges. These are topics we need to address now that the spring session of the General Assembly is underway.

Some more new bills for this spring’s session

Last week I told you about a few of the new bills I am sponsoring this year in Springfield. But those were far from the only bills I have introduced this year. Early in January I filed House Bill 4331 to allow current and certain retired state correctional officers and county correctional officers to carry their own firearms off-duty without being in violation of the unlawful use of weapons statutes, provided that they meet certain training standards. I am working with several of my colleagues on a very similar bill, House Bill 2635. This week I joined a group of representatives in sponsoring House Bill 4137 which allows an application or renewal of a FOID card or concealed carry license to also serve as a dual-purpose voter registration application.

I am one of the sponsors of another public safety bill, House Bill 4275 which creates the offense of organized retail theft. This legislation was filed as a response to the troubling videos we have seen of smash-and-grab robberies in Chicago and in other parts of the country. It would define the crime of organized retail theft in the law and set the penalties for convictions.

Visiting with Gibson City Rotary

Thank you to Brian Zumwalt and the Gibson City Rotary for the opportunity to stop by and provide a Springfield update last week. We had some great conversations and questions. I also appreciate the insights on carbon storage and what is going on around the state. Thank you for all you do for the community.

We are here to help!

My district offices in Pontiac and Watseka are here to serve all of the people of the 106th District. Whether you have an opinion on a bill in the state legislature, are having difficulty with a state agency, or just want to find out about resources that might be available in our area, please do not hesitate to contact us. Last year my office had more than 3500 constituent connections in our district and we helped more than 60 of our local communities get access to grant funding. We are here to help!

If I can be of assistance to you, please contact my Pontiac office at (815) 844-9179 or my Watseka office at (815) 432-0106. Remember that you can always reach us through the contact form on repbennett.com.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $2,918,024,437 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $4.7 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $141 billion.

Did You Know?

Sunday is the birthday of President Ronald Reagan, Eureka College Class of ‘32 and the only President born and raised in Illinois. After a 1981 assassination attempt Reagan owed his survival in part to a group of Illinoisans. Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy who put himself between the gunman and Reagan was a Chicagoan. White House Press Secretary James Brady; also wounded in the shooting; was from Centralia. A surgeon who saved Brady’s life, Dr. Arthur Kobrine, earned his medical degree from Northwestern. The White House physician that day was Dr. Dan Ruge, a former Northwestern professor and friend of Chicago neurosurgeon Dr. Loyal Davis, the father of First Lady Nancy Reagan.

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